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September 13, 2000
Azzuri beat Aussies 1-0
The fancied Italians gave the home side a lesson in percentage play, with a 1-0 win over Australia in the Olympic men's soccer event on Wednesday.
The houseful Melbourne Cricket Ground came to life with the Aussies running out onto the field, for their opening game against the highly-fancied Italians.
The home side took control early on, showing very good cohesion and playing the slightly slippy underfoot conditions better than the opposition. Most notable early on was the combination between Leeds star Mark Viduka, leading the attack, and Josip Skoko playing in the hole just behind him. The two, judged by the play, know each other's game to a nicety, and the combination clicks smoothly from the get-go.
The Azzuri appeared content to stay back and soak up the Australian attacks, only occasionally giving the home team reason to worry. One such came just before the 30th minute, when a Pirlo free kick curved past Danny Milosevic, tending the Aussie bar, but Colosimo manning the left post headed clear.
Gently, however, the Italians began turning on the heat, with nicely angled long balls into the area.
Skoko gets his name in the book for a reckless piece of holding on as Pirlo attempted to sprint forward with the ball.
Two Italian kicks into the area and twice Foxe has to blast the ball away. Danny Milosevic hasn't really settled yet and looks a bit iffy in goals for the Olyroos.
Play descended to the scrappy occasionally, and as halftime neared, the Italians seemed content to tap the ball around to each other, deep in defense -- a tactic that frustrated the Aussies, and a houseful crowd egging the home team on.
The Italians, though, appear to be working on the strategy of easing themselves into the game, slowing things down and letting the opposition run out of steam before launching their own attacks.
The two teams were locked goal-less at halftime.
The second half saw the Aussies opening strongly, forcing the Azzuri to use strongarm tactics to counter the charge. Mark Viduka in particular lived up to his billing with plenty of dazzle, while the Italians relied on the breakaway to get into the game every now and again.
The Italians though were the first to come close, in the second session, when Comandini and Ventola produced a clever 1-2, only for Danny Milosevic to dive and save a weakish finish from Ventola's right foot. The Aussies immediately counterattacked with a long range shot on goal, Abbfiati in the Italian goal tipping it over the bar.
It was Italy again, interrupting a period of Aussie offense, when Ventola produced a curling right footer on the free kick that beat the diving Aussie goalkeeper, but crashed into the crossbar.
Where Australia smoked, though, was in the midfield, with Emerton and Foxe shutting down the space and denying the Azzuri room to mount viable assaults on the opposition.
Strangely, though, while there was plenty of skirmishing, the game seemed to peter off in intensity, with both sides looking resigned to sharing points in the opener.
Viduka woke up briefly, in the 76th minute, with a great run down the flank culiminating in a cross to Curcija, whose header produced a great save by the Italian goalkeeper.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 81st minute, when Pirlo broke free of the Australian defence and slammed the ball at goal. The shot hit the left post, then richocheted over the line despite Foxe's best attempts to clear, and the Azzuri had gone 1-0, to a hush from the home crowd.
From that point on, the Italians did what they do best -- percentage soccer aimed at shutting the Aussies out of the game, despite the best efforts of Viduka and his colleagues to break through the wall.
That one goal in the 81st moment proved the decider, with the Azzuri shading the home team 1-0.
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